Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – February 19, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (including interviews with Grand Ayatollah Hossain Ali Montazeri in Qom, the most politically influential and well-respected dissident cleric in Iran; with Ayatollah Montazeri, the designated successor of Ayatollah Khomeini; with former President Abol Hassan Bani Sadr; with Babak Amir-Khosravi of the Tudeh; with Empress Farah Pahlavi; with political analyst Mohsen Sazgara, a student during the Revolution, who was close to Khomeini, and one of the founders of the Revolutionary Guards; with Khosrow Akmal, former ambassador and chief of protocol in the former regime; with journalist Dariush Homayoun, former Information Minister under the Shah; and with Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari, grandson of former Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh; with Shaheen Fatemi, Professor of Economics and Dean of Graduate Studies at the American University of Paris, on the Islamic Revolution’s impact on the Iranian economy; with Hossein Faraji, a journalist who was a German Radio reporter at the time of the Islamic Revolution, about Islamic revolutionaries and their whereabouts today; with human rights activist Parviz Dastmalchi about the nature of laws in the Islamic Republic; with historian Majid Tafrashi on the roots of the Iranian Revolution); an exclusive interview with Ali Eshraghi, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, on being banned from participating in next month’s parliamentary elections in Iran; interviews with journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi on the elections; with State Department Middle East spokesman David Foley breaking the news on PNN that the next round of US-Iran talks on Iraq have been postponed because of the killing of Hezbollah militant Imad Mughniyeh; with political analyst Mehrdad Khansari about a meeting in Paris of the Financial Action Task Force; parliamentary elections in Pakistan; and the ongoing presidential primaries in the US.

VOA/PNN produced a special program to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, beginning with a video chronology: people chanting, street demonstrations, the Shah’s last day in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini at the airport in Tehran and his speech at Behesht Zahra cemetery on February 1, 1979. Anchor Setareh Derakhshesh followed this by setting the course for the program: “During the revolution, all political groups - from left to right - supported Ayatollah Khomeini. Not long after the revolution, however, the same political groups broke away and began opposing him. What were the goals of the revolution and were they met? Did the revolution change course? What were the reasons for that change? Where do things stand now? Many of those who participated in the revolution are dead or have been driven out. The young generation does not remember the revolution. By talking to major players at the time and those who were close to the Ayatollah – from left to right to religious, those who had a significant role before and after the revolution – we will try to focus on the causes and consequences of that event.” The remainder of the program consisted of in-studio discussion and exclusive interviews recently taped by the anchor in Paris.

Grand Ayatollah Hossain Ali Montazeri in Qom, the most politically influential and well-respected dissident cleric in Iran, mainly among reformists, was one of those interviewed. Ayatollah Montazeri, who rarely gives interviews, responded to Ms. Derakhshesh’s questions in writing. He was one of the leaders of the Islamic Republic and the designated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini; he also was head of the Majlis Khobregan. He fell out with Khomeini in 1989 over government policies and was under house arrest for over 17 years. Ms. Derakhshesh also interviewed Empress Shahbanoo Farah Pahlavi, widow of the Shah; Abol Hassan Bani Sadr, Iran’s first president following the revolution and the abolition of the monarchy; Babak Amir Khosravi, leader of the Tudeh (Communist) Party of Iran. He was present at Neauphle-le-Chateau during the preparation of the draft of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution. A close ally of Khomeini at the beginning of the revolution, he obtained the support of several left groups for the Ayatollah. Ms. Derakhshesh also interviewed Hedayat Matin Daftari, a legal scholar who left the nationalist movement and joined the Mujahedin in exile. He is the grandson of Mohammad Mossadegh and was head of the Lawyers’ Guild in Iran. She also spoke with Jacques Hubert Rodier, currently an editorialist at Les Echos, France’s largest financial newspaper. He was in Iran before and after the revolution, and is the paper’s specialist on Iran and the Middle East.

Ayatollah Montazeri, the designated successor of Ayatollah Khomeini, the number two person in Iran and head of the Khobregan said the revolution has given Islam a bad name. “No individual whose rights have been violated should remain silent,” he said. “We cannot criticize the people for speaking out. Those who remained silent are as responsible for the atrocities and have to answer for it. Unfortunately, it is only by name that the revolution remains Islamic. Its content has changed, and what is taking place in the name of Islam gives a bad image of the religion. This is the religion of kindness and tolerance. By writing to the Ayatollah and by speaking to him about these matters, I believe I fulfilled my duties to a certain degree.” Ayatollah Montazeri said the situation in Iran is not suitable for the Iranian people. “People who paid a lot to bring about change and who asked for democracy and freedom to be enshrined in our Constitution have been shortchanged and are being treated unkindly by the authorities. The existence of political prisoners for reasons that are concocted, the banning of newspapers and magazines are just a few examples of what is going on.” Ayatollah Montazeri lamented the broad disqualification of parliamentary candidates: “This is solely based on political vengeance and malice without consideration for the law and our national interests. Most importantly, accusing well-known religious politicians of being against Islam is unforgivable. Such policies will have ramifications for all of us. I would hope that those in charge would do away with selfishness and think of the people’s interests and cease this inadmissible behavior. I remind those responsible that if the current situation continues, it will weaken Iran at all levels, foreign and domestic.” On relations with the United States, Ayatollah Montazeri said Iran can defend the rights of its people and the country and still come to the table and negotiate: “Ayatollah Khomeini once called the US the great Satan, but it is clear that this was a temporary ruling and would change depending on the circumstances. Experts in foreign policy in our country, who are neutral, should evaluate whether it is in our interest. If past relations were to determine whether we should establish relations with a country or not, Britain and Russia have caused more damage to Iran than the US.”

Former President Abol Hassan Bani Sadr said it was “a mistake with irreparable damages” not to have gotten to know Ayatollah Khomeini before he arrived in Iran. “We did not expect him to turn against his own promises in Paris. He made promises in Paris and did the exact opposite after his arrival to Iran. It started by forcing women to wear the hejab. In Qom, I reminded Khomeini of the promises he had made in Paris – that women would be free to choose what to wear. Khomeini responded that he will say something today and he will change his position the next day, if necessary. That is when I realized what he was made of and that he had no convictions whatsoever. He is directly responsible for the violence that followed. The violence that we see today (in Muslim countries) comes from him. He not only promoted violence but he was the first to sanctify it in Islam. Islam does not preach violence.” Mr. Bani Sadr said intellectuals who claimed they were duped by the Ayatollah are lying. “They could not have been fooled. What they were after was power. Who founded the pillars of dictatorship after the revolution? Such as the Revolutionary Guards? The Revolutionary Courts? Ebrahim Yazdi says he founded them. They founded these infrastructures of dictatorship and handed them over to the Mullahs to butcher the people, something that is still going on. Who monopolized the media for the mullahs? Who started violence in Kurdistan, in Gonbad, in Khuzistan, in Azerbaijan and in Tehran? The answer is that intellectuals established the infrastructure and gave it to the mullahs.” President Bani Sadr said even with its flaws, the government at the beginning of the revolution respected the laws of Iran and the Iranian people. “We had rules and regulations. Today there is chaos in Iran and we are known as terrorists in the world. This cannot be called a government. One day the president says I am adding two zeros to the currency, the next day he says I am cutting interest rates. How can a country function like this? How can it have a place in the world? In the old days, there were groups of thugs that would pillage and do what they wanted. A low level mullah would then clear the way for them by blessing what they did. The same process is happening today. This Shorayeh Negahban is a way of validating the pillage that is going on by mullahs.” President Bani Sadr said foreign powers should not threaten Iran. “They should support the people, paving the way for them to get rid of this regime. When Iranians feel threatened from the outside, the society closes itself from within. When they have the support of the international community, they open up.”

Babak Amir-Khosravi of the Tudeh Party said overthrowing the monarchy was pre-eminent in everyone’s thinking, to the exclusion of anything else. “Everyone, including the left, cooperated with Khomeini. No one thought of the replacement. No one thought of what was going to happen after the Shah. We all joined [the revolution] – not only the left, but all other groups. When the left saw the oppression that was going on, it broke away from Khomeini.”

Empress Farah Pahlavi said people in Iran do not realize all the advances made under her husband’s rule. “Maybe the establishment did not do a good job of connecting with the people and did not have good PR. Some countries also began looking at Iran in a negative way. At the same time, the international media stated portraying Iran in an extremely negative way. They became more Catholic than the Pope. Women, unfortunately, forgot what they had accomplished under Reza Shah and the late Shah. The population was attracted to the slogans and promises of Khomeini and everyone thought that if the Shah left, they would have freedom and a better life.” Empress Pahlavi said her husband left the country in a bid to avert bloodshed, but reached out to a lot of opposition leaders before leaving, to warn them that the path they were taking would not lead to what they were hoping for. “But no one listened,” she said. “Women are under constant repression. During the Shah’s time, women gained many rights and they could be what they wanted. Today they are being jailed, stoned to death. They commit suicide. There is prostitution. They are being sold to the Emirates. They are being humiliated and insulted. I see a bright future for Iran, but what is important is ethics. People, groups and political parties have to be truthful. If you want change, just say so. Say what system you want. Do not lie and chant for freedom and then go in the opposition direction.”

Others who appeared on the PNN anniversary special were: political analyst Mohsen Sazgara, a student during the Revolution, who was close to Khomeini, and one of the founders of the Revolutionary Guards; Khosrow Akmal, former ambassador and chief of protocol in the former regime; journalist Dariush Homayoun (via Switzerland), former Information Minister under the Shah; and Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari (via London), grandson of former Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

Mohsen Sazgara – a student leader during the Revolution and a founder of the Revolutionary Guards – said, “We have seen that violence didn’t get us anywhere in Iran. It is through civil disobedience [that we will effect change]. We must pressure authorities for a referendum to change the constitution and subsequently the system. And this will require a lot of pressure from the people.” Mr. Sazgara said people wanted an independent and national government in Iran, and that the Revolution’s slogan was Neither West nor East. “To me, ‘freedom’ was not defined. It was unclear what people gained from revolution. They wanted modernity and freedom which never took place. Many were jailed and executed or were driven out. When there is struggle for power, elimination and jailings occur. With the current constitution of the Islamic Republic, achieving democracy and freedom is impossible. The solution for getting rid of this regime is organizing and re-grouping, and with the immense power of international pressure on our side, we have to force the regime to submit to a national referendum.”

Khosrow Akmal, former ambassador and chief of protocol in the former regime, said it was a big mistake for the army to have announced its neutrality. “In the event the army had performed its duties, we would not be here where we are today. The army’s neutrality allowed the revolution to take place, and as far as changes to, it wasn’t evident at the beginning, but eventually, we could see the direction the revolution was going.”

Journalist Dariush Homayoun said that since 1960, clear thinking has been the trend of reactionaries and dictatorship. “Free thinking has been the trend for self, and depriving rights for others. The main problem for Iranians has been the problem of clear thinking. This problem and others have been solved the Islamic regime. Now we know that religion and state must be separated. We know now that what we are going through is the result of Islamic rule. Prior to the Islamic revolution, because people were very enthused for revolution, all warnings fell on deaf ears. But eventually, after the revolution, people realized the nature of the regime.”

Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari, the grandson of former Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, said the Iranian people’s rights were being violated under the Shah. “The people had no will to participate in elections since everything was pre-decided. Eighteen months prior to the revolution, some 56-57 individuals sent an open letter to the Shah with demands. If they had been met by the government, we would not be where we are today.”

Roundtable with You February 15 talked with Shaheen Fatemi, Professor of Economics and Dean of Graduate Studies at the American University of Paris, on the Islamic Revolution’s impact on the Iranian economy. Mr. Fatemi said Iran is rich in energy and has 10% of the world's crude oil reserves. In terms of natural gas, Iran is second only to Russia and enjoys a large and substantially young population. Mr. Fatemi said Iran’s economy relies heavily on oil export revenues, with about 80-90 % of total export earnings and 40-50 % of the government’s budget coming from oil revenues. He said in this economy, inflation is running at around 20-25 % per year. Despite higher oil revenues, Iranian budget deficits remain a chronic problem, in part due to subsidies. Mr. Fatemi discussed other weaknesses of Iran’s economy, namely a shortage of water, chronic unemployment, incurable inflation, the government’s domination of the economy, a lack of foreign and domestic investment, and brain drain. Mr. Fatemi said that after three decades of Islamic rule, Iran’s dependence on oil revenues has increased dramatically. He discussed how the nuclear impasse has affected the Iranian economy, with UN sanctions making their effects felt – particularly on the banking sector. Mr. Fatemi said gross economic dislocations caused by the continued pressure of sanctions will leave long-lasting marks on the structure of Iran’s economic fabric.

Roundtable with You February 12 talked with human rights activist Parviz Dastmalchi about the nature of laws in the Islamic Republic. Mr. Dastmalchi discussed the various aspects of change that took place as a result of the Islamic Revolution and said, after the Iranian Revolution, “discrimination between the genders became legalized. The concept of equality was eliminated and women became deprived of the privileges society had previously recognized for them.” Mr. Dastmalchi said religious law has replaced civil law. “Violations against ethnic and religious minorities became legalized. Vengeance, or the law of retaliation, has replaced the law. Stoning and amputations have been legalized.” Mr. Dastmalchi said that Article Five of the Islamic Constitution gives the Velayate Faghih, or spiritual leader, the ultimate power in Iran and he is recognized as God’s representative. Mr. Dastmalchi said the impact of such power impacts all levels of ordinary life: “Under Islamic laws, women must cover themselves. Drinking alcohol can lead to the death penalty. The Council of Guardians has the power to screen candidates for parliament.”

Roundtable with You February 13 talked with Hossein Faraji, a journalist who was a German Radio reporter at the time of the Islamic Revolution, about Islamic revolutionaries and their whereabouts today. Mr. Faraji described the atmosphere, the personalities who were active in the suburbs of Paris, and the events leading to the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in Paris. He listed the names of men who came to power alongside Khomeini: Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Ebrahim Yazdi, Sadegh Khalkhali, Mostafa Chamran, and more. Mr. Faraji discussed Ayatollah Khomeini’s promises for liberty and freedom, free water and free electricity for everyone – none of which has materialized three decades later. Mr. Faraji discussed the fate of Abolhassan Bani Sadr, one of Khomeini’s closest associates, who became the first president of the Islamic Republic. In June 1981, Mr. Bani Sadr was removed from office by order of Ayatollah Khomeini. He fled the country and now lives in Paris as a political refugee. Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who became the director of Radio and Television, and later was appointed as Foreign Minister, was executed in September 1982. Ebrahim Yazdi lives in Iran and has joined the opposition. Ayatollah Beheshti, a close associate of Khomeini who became the first chief justice of the Islamic Republic, died in an explosion along with 72 other Islamic personalities. Sadegh Khalkhali, the Islamic judge who wrote in his memoir that he ordered the execution of more than 500 people, died in 2003 after having retired in Qom. Mostafa Chamran, who was appointed Minister of War, died in an explosion the same week that Mr. Bani Sadr was removed from the office. Ayatollah Mohammad Montazeri who was widely expected to be Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, openly criticized the mass execution of prisoners by the Ayatollah. He was subsequently removed from power and has remained under house arrest ever since.

Roundtable with You February 11 talked with historian Majid Tafrashi, a researcher at the British Archive, about the roots of the Iranian Revolution. Mr. Tafrashi presented a new series of documents, recently released by the British government, that contain correspondence and reports by the British Embassy in Tehran to the Foreign Office in London. In these documents, which go back to 1977, he said there is information on Iran’s nuclear activities, reports on activities of opposition elements against the Shah, secret negotiations between the Shah and western powers, and the death of a prominent opposition leader in Britain. Mr. Tafrashi said newly released documents reveal that from 1977 onward, one can tell the Shah’s downfall is approaching. He said the Shah’s government felt no danger from religious elements, rather they felt, the real danger to the government would come from National Front and leftist elements. For this reason, few restrictions were imposed against the religious groups while nationalists and leftists were severely repressed. At this time, religious groups were organized. They established relations with outside forces and mobilized for events leading to 1979’s Islamic Revolution.

On the “Youth Factor” segment of Late Edition, VOA/PNN reporter Kourosh Sehati talked about the blog of journalist Babak Dad (www.babkdad.blogfa.com) whish said, “I wish people such as Khatami, Karoubi and Rafsanjani instead of holding a session for elections that aims to find a solution for some of those who have been disqualified from participating in next month’s parliamentary elections, I wish instead they would hold sessions aimed at negotiating the release of jailed students and workers.” He went on to say in an interview with www.baharestaniran.com that Ali Eshraghi has said, “I have not been disqualified based on any specific clause or law. My crime is that the authorities do not know the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Panelists on Roundtable with You February 17 debated whether the Iranian public should take part in the parliamentary election next month or should boycott the balloting. Hamburg-based political activist Hassan Shariatmadari said taking part in free, fair and transparent elections should be the right that the Iranian public demands from their rulers. “This election seems inherently undemocratic,” he said. “But the Iranian people should continue clamoring for electoral reforms through a social movement. The regime uses heavy voter turn-out as a way of legitimizing its rule,” he added. According to Hormoz Hekmat, the editor of Iran Nameh magazine, no election in the Islamic Republic can be characterized as free or democratic. “I’m not in a position to urge people to either take part or boycott the vote,” he said. “It’s something the Iranian public has to decide for itself.” Mr. Hekmat said free and fair elections require free political parties and a free press, neither of which exists in Iran. “In a system of government where the clerics have the last say in all matters of the state, a free and fair election seems hollow and meaningless because the deck is stacked against the will of the people,” he concluded.

In an exclusive interview with VOA/PNN, Ali Eshraghi, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini and a friend of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, explained why he was banned from participating in next month’s parliamentary elections in Iran. He said he was very surprised when he heard that he was disqualified. Mr. Eshraghi said he had presented all required documents to the election committee, but had succeeded in passing only the first stage. He said he would not challenge their ruling, but denied the Guardian Council’s claim that he was disqualified because he didn’t submit his diploma. Mr. Eshraghi said the whole thing is the result of a problematic system as opposed to a problem with him specifically. He explained that he had learned of his disqualification on Internet news sites, but has yet to receive any official notification. He said, “God willing, I will still participate in elections.” Mr. Eshraghi said the new parliament should try to boost Iran’s image abroad, reduce international tensions, and pass new laws to improve people’s lives in Iran. Asked if he expects the new parliament to seriously study US-Iranian relations, Mr. Eshraghi said he’d rather not comment. The interview concluded with his saying reformists should not boycott the elections. [Editor’s Note: The morning after the interview, Mr. Eshraghi called VOA/PNN expressing concern about having spoken to us. The pictures below are of the grandson on the left, and the grandfather at about the same age, on the right.]

 

News and Views February 17 looked at events in Iran with Abbas Milani, Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University and a visiting professor in the Department of Political Science. Mr. Milani said the upcoming parliamentary election is inherently undemocratic because every candidate has to go through an unfair vetting. “These elections are more like selections by the Supreme Religious leader. And the only element that is left out from this selection process is the Iranian public.” Commenting on attendance of Iran’s foreign minister at the funeral service for Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh, Mr. Milani said, “Lebanon’s Hezbollah is a creation of the Islamic Republic, and its leader has openly said that Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has direct control over his militias. The Iranian leadership has made Hezbollah into a tool of its foreign policy.” He said Iran supports Hezbollah, in part, to burnish its anti-Israel image in Arab countries. On the nuclear front, Mr. Milani said, “International public opinion is now squarely against Iran,” adding that the West’s concerns about the nature of Iran’s nuclear ambitions are not entirely baseless.

News and Views February 18 reported that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to cooperate with the winners of Monday’s parliamentary elections, which are seen as a major step from military rule to civilian-led democracy. Mr. Musharraf made the comments after casting his vote tin Rawalpindi. His office is not contested in this election, but if opposition parties win a two-thirds majority, they would have enough votes to impeach him if they chose to do so. More than 80 million people are registered to vote for representatives to the National Assembly and Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies. Turnout was light early in the day. Voters said they feared more of the political violence that killed hundreds of people during the past few months, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at the end of December.

 A fourth round of meetings was to have taken place February 15 between the US, Iran and Iraq. But in an interview February 13 with News and Views, the State Department’s Middle East spokesman, David Foley, broke the news that the meeting was postponed. The delay, requested through back channels by Iran, comes after the death of Imad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah militant from Lebanon accused of attacks that left hundreds of Americans and Israelis dead, including a US Navy diver, during the infamous 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner. He was killed by a car bomb as he left a reception in Damascus marking the 29th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution hosted by the Iranian ambassador to Syria. Both Hezbollah and its supporter, Tehran, have accused Israel of being behind the assassination. Iran has not accused the US of complicity in the killing, but reportedly can’t afford to be seen talking to the US during the same week. The United States applauded the killing, with Assistant Secretary of State Sean McCormack saying, “The world is a better place without this man in it. One way or another he was brought to justice.”

News and Views February 13 reported on the car bomb attack which killed one of the top leaders of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, late Tuesday in Syria. The Shi’ite group announced the death of Imad Mughniyeh on its television channel and accused Israel of carrying out the attack. Israel had accused Mughniyeh of masterminding the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, which killed 29 people, and a blast at a Buenos Aires Jewish center in 1994 that killed dozens more. Mughniyeh also was on the US State Department's list of the most wanted terrorism suspects. He is believed to have masterminded suicide bombings in Lebanon during the 1974-1990 civil war that killed hundreds of Americans and French, as well as hostage takings of Westerners and the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed.

News and Views February 14 reported that Lebanese government supporters marked the third anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination while the leading opposition group Hezbollah mourned the death of top commander, Imad Mughniyeh. Both events took place Thursday in Beirut. Tens of thousands gathered in the rain-soaked streets of the Lebanese capital waving flags at the rally for Mr. Hariri, whose 2005 assassination sparked anti-Syrian protests that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Hezbollah was to hold funeral services for Imad Mughniyeh, who was implicated in deadly attacks against Western and Israeli targets for decades. Both Hezbollah and Iran accused Israel of orchestrating the car blast that killed the Hezbollah leader.

News and Views February 16 talked with political analyst Mehrdad Khansari about a meeting in Paris of the Financial Action Task Force, a 34-nation group set up to fight money laundering and terrorist financing. Mr. Khansari said Iran and the United States met as part of the gathering, but are not believed to have met bilaterally. He said Iran’s goal in attending the meeting was to decrease economic pressures due to UN sanctions. Energy analyst Bahman Aghaii Diba said there was a delay in learning about the January 24 meeting because Iran doesn’t talk about such meetings. “This meeting was not about direct talks between the US and Iran,” he said. “It was about money laundering and its prevention, and Iran has been accused of being a center for money laundering.” On separate questions, Mr. Diba said he didn’t think President Ahmadinejad’s scheduled trip to Baghdad March 2 would solve any problems relating to Iranian and US views on stability in Iraq. With regard to the death of Hezbollah militant Imad Mughniyeh, Mr. Diba said the attendance by Iran’s Foreign Minister at his funeral underscores Iran’s support for terrorism.

News and Views February 13 reported that the US is pushing